Masters of the MUNiverse: A series on Chairing – Position papers

by felipe on April 3, 2014

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There’s a task every Chair dreads: That week before the conference when a rain of position papers starts flooding the committee email and all of a sudden your workload has tripled. It will test your faith in your resolve for the chair’s mission. Shuddering as I write this, I must say it is the one last step before the conference which serves a great purpose: Position papers are the first impression you have of a delegate. The kid who saved you the trouble of going to wikipedia by pasting a whole page into a Word file (blue links in-text and all) is obviously not on the priority list for awards. The gorgeous, letter-head bearing ones with ample footnotes on the other hand, speak volumes more about the delegate who authored it.

A good rule of thumb (which will save you many headaches) is to put as much effort into correcting the Position Paper as was put into writing it. A delegate who bothered to find World Bank Numbers to cite (properly!) and linked to their Permanent mission’s previous statements deserves a pat on the back and some extensive commentary on substantive matters and in-committee strategy with regards to convincing other delegates.

Here’s a few pointers when it comes to grading them:

1) Is it in the standard format?

Anyone who has ever written a position paper knows that, like everything in MUN, a bit of presentation acumen is required. There’s gimmicky parts to it, like the flags in the header section, but it’s important to remember that this is part of the role-play inherent in the simulation: A position paper is meant to be an official document from a diplomatic mission to the United Nations. Have you ever seen an official document without a letterhead? Well-labeled sections? References, footnotes, pictures, graphs? For reference, take a look at a bank note / dollar bill / paper currency. Presentation goes a long way.

2) Does it follow country policy?

It’s no good to paste the star spangled banner all over a page and then write about how you support a Bolivarian-chavista sharia law takeover with Maoist, Apartheid and Mugabist elements. MUN was conceived as an exercise in “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”, and sometimes that means you need to quote from Kim Il-Sung’s collected works to faithfully represent North Korea. It is a slightly exegetical affair, and the chair who is correcting the paper does have to suspend disbelief at times (read: very often). This would be the part where I remind you that the Chair is neutral, but you’re not: You must in effect take on the role of a state censor. Imagine you’re a party boss in a dictatorship and one of your junior diplomats has put out a statement which bucks party line. What would your reaction be?

release the hounds!

3) Did they Read the Study Guide?

Few things manage to be both depressing and hilarious at the same time. A position paper which completely missed the point is one of the few members of that set. Dead giveaways include talking about a slightly related or near-sounding topic (peace-building/peacekeeping – the nearer sounding European organs like council of Europe/European council and so on). After putting in all that time to write the study guide its only fair that they should actually read it! The suggestions made by the chairs in the original study guide should be addressed even if only to be disagreed with or mentioned in passing. If the study guide was any good they should have a working knowledge of the topic and be able to avoid simple mistakes. You’ll always be able to tell who read it and who didn’t.

4) Plagiarism

It goes without saying that a good plagiarism checker should always be kept handy. There are giveaways in the formatting (like a bit of gray in the background of a paragraph, or more egregiously, different fonts) but the only foolproof way is to put the document through software like Turnitin for cross-referencing with the rest of the internet. If MUN is to achieve any sort of respect as an academic endeavour, we need to be as rigorous as any other department in hunting down academic offenses of this nature.

5) Give a “Best Position paper” award

Conferences generally take some aspect of the position paper into account, in some cases making it a prerequisite to receiving an award at all. Some conferences have been known to use it as a tie-breaker, even to the extreme of favouring whichever delegation turned it in first… Personally I think this is misguided. A much better incentive for delegates to put in the hours is to offer them a separate award for it. As I mentioned earlier, Position papers are very close to the nature of what junior-level diplomats do in real life – that makes it all the more tragic when delegates see it as a waste of time. We must be fair to them however: we’re all university students, we all have enough assignments and essays without an extracurricular activity assigning us even more readings and deadlines. Study guides can be long, in some cases you’ll even have multiple documents to read (WorldMUN for instance, effectively requires every delegate to read 3 study guides – quite an imposition on any student’s time). I know better than most people that this is a worthwhile pursuit. That being said I stand firmly when I say that the very best position paper, the one that cited and had a bibliography, which squarely set its sights on its countries’ position and gave a solid account of its objectives in the committee… Deserves its own award. The nature of position paper writing being very different from the skills of a delegate (research as opposed to diplomacy) it can only buttress the narrative of MUN enhancing your skills and developing you as a person. A lazy chair will use the award as an effective “4th place”, but an excellent chair won’t shy away from giving the same delegate a delegation award and the best position paper recognition: I should know, the best chair I ever had gave me that great honor.

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